Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can’t keep up with its workload.


At first the heart tries to make up for this by:

  • Enlarging. The heart stretches to contract more strongly and keep up with the demand to pump more blood. Over time this causes the heart to become enlarged.
     
  • Developing more muscle mass. The increase in muscle mass occurs because the contracting cells of the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more strongly, at least initially.
     
  • Pumping faster. This helps increase the heart’s output.


The body also tries to compensate in other ways:

  • The blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up, trying to make up for the heart’s loss of power.
     
  • The body diverts blood away from less important tissues and organs (like the kidneys), the heart and brain.


These temporary measures mask the problem of heart failure, but they don’t solve it. Heart failure continues and worsens until these compensating processes no longer work.

Eventually the heart and body just can’t keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that usually prompt a trip to the doctor. The body’s compensation mechanisms help explain why some people may not become aware of their condition until years after their heart begins its decline. Heart failure can involve the heart’s left side, right side or both sides. However, it usually affects the left side first. Heart failure can be ongoing (chronic), or your condition may start suddenly (acute).


Heart failure signs and symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
     
  • Fatigue and weakness
     
  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet
     
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

 

Risk Factors


Heart failure is more common in:

  • People who are age 65 or older. Aging can weaken the heart muscle. Older people also may have had diseases for many years that led to heart failure. Heart failure is a leading cause of hospital stays among people on Medicare.
     
  • Blacks are more likely to have heart failure than people of other races. They’re also more likely to have symptoms at a younger age, have more hospital visits due to heart failure, and die from heart failure.
     
  • People who are overweight. Excess weight puts strain on the heart. Being overweight also increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These diseases can lead to heart failure.
     
  • People who have had a heart attack. Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack and can weaken the heart muscle.


Children who have congenital heart defects also can develop heart failure. These defects occur if the heart, heart valves, or blood vessels near the heart don’t form correctly while a baby is in the womb. Congenital heart defects can make the heart work harder. This weakens the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure. Children don’t have the same symptoms of heart failure or get the same treatments as adults. This Health Topic focuses on heart failure in adults.

 

Diagnosis


To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will take a careful medical history, review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Your doctor will also check for the presence of risk factors, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or diabetes.

Using a stethoscope, your doctor can listen to your lungs for signs of congestion. The stethoscope also picks up abnormal heart sounds that may suggest heart failure. The doctor may examine the veins in your neck and check for fluid buildup in your abdomen and legs.

After the physical exam, your doctor may also order some of these tests:

  • Blood tests
     
  • Chest X-ray
     
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
     
  • Echocardiogram
     
  • Stress test
     
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan
     
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
     
  • Coronary angiogram
     
  • Myocardial biopsy

 

Treatment


Damage to the heart's pumping action caused by heart failure cannot be repaired. Nevertheless, current treatments can significantly improve the quality of life of the patient by keeping the condition under control and helping relieve many of the symptoms.

Treatment also focuses on treating any conditions that may be causing the heart failure, which in turn lessens the burden on the heart. A doctor or cardiologist will discuss treatment options with the patient and suggest the best choices, depending on individual circumstances.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have heart failure live longer, more active lives. Treatment for heart failure depends on the type and severity of the heart failure.


The goals of treatment for all stages of heart failure include:

  • Treating the condition’s underlying cause, such as ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes
     
  • Reducing symptoms
     
  • Stopping the heart failure from getting worse
     
  • Increasing your lifespan and improving your quality of life


Treatments usually include heart-healthy lifestyle changes, medicines, and ongoing care. If you have severe heart failure, you also may need medical procedures or surgery.Your doctor may recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes if you have heart failure.

 

# HEART DISEASE BY THE NUMBERS #

 

 

  • About 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure.
     
  • About half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis.
     
  • Heart failure costs the nation an estimated $30.7 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat heart failure, and missed days of work.

 

 

 

 


Sources:

“Heart Failure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142.

“Heart Failure.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure.

Nordqvist, Christian. “Congestive Heart Failure: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 3 Jan. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/156849.php.

Villines, Zawn. “Congestive Heart Failure: Stages, Symptoms, and Causes.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 4 July 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317848.php.

“What Is Heart Failure?” Www.heart.org, www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heart-failure.

NOTE: The information on this page and any information found on healtheo360 is not a substitution for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, CALL 911 immediately. See additional information about our Terms & Conditions.

Join the community!


You must be a member of healtheo360 in order to view this group

Register with Email Address

Already a member? Click here to login

healtheo360 believes strongly in user privacy.